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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1190

Medicare


Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (14:51): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health, Senator Nash. I refer to the new Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, who says:

I have and we have a rock solid commitment to the future of Medicare …

Given the new minister's commitment, will the minister confirm the government will abandon its six-year freeze on Medicare rebates?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Local Government and Territories and Minister for Regional Communications) (14:51): I can indeed confirm that this government has a rock-solid commitment to the future of Medicare. I am not going to be lectured by those on the other side about the Medicare freeze and I will tell you why, because many people listening might not know that it was actually Labor that introduced the Medicare freeze, and indeed it was the member for Sydney. It was reported in Australian Doctor on a 22 May 2013, 'Doctors can afford rebate freeze, says Plibersek.' Not only did they introduce it; they said doctors can afford it. She said:

I understand that GPs have all sorts of expenses in running their surgeries and employing staff and so on, but the average billing from Medicare is more than $350,000 a year.

Ms Plibersek said she accepted some GPs would opt out of bulk-billing as a result of the freeze, but she hoped that not many would take this course of action: 'I'd be disappointed if a lot of people made that choice,' said the Labor minister at the time. She dismissed concerns that the freeze would pressure doctors to compromise care—

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Senator Gallagher on a point of order?

Senator Gallagher: I know Senator Nash is keen on talking about Labor, but the question—and she has taken more than half of her time—was, given the new minister's commitment, will the minister confirm that the government will abandon its six-year freeze on Medicare rebates. That is the question that we were asking of the minister.

The PRESIDENT: I will remind the minister of the question.

Senator NASH: Thank you, Mr President—I did, I thought, answer that at the outset. I was disappointed that the senator stopped me, because I was just about to say that the previous Labor minister had said about this:

Will some people respond in a way that is unhelpful for their patients? Perhaps.

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Senator Wong on a point of order.

Senator Wong: It is a point of order on relevance. From Senator Brandis in response to Senator Xenophon and now this minister, we really do have an abuse of question time. Ministers are asked questions, and the one question was: given the new minister's commitment, will the minister confirm the government will abandon its six-year freeze on Medicare rebates? We understand that some political hyperbole is part of how we deal with question time, but this minister has spent some 1½ minutes talking only about a former Labor minister—can't she answer the question? Is she unable to answer the question?

The PRESIDENT: I did hear the minister at the outset confirm that Medicare would be maintained, but the minister did not go directly to the exact question—she was relevant, but not directly relevant to the exact question. I remind the minister of the question, and she has 29 seconds in which to answer.

Senator NASH: I think it is entirely appropriate that I have made the comments I have so far, because the Australian people deserve to know when Labor ask a question about the Medicare freeze that it was Labor that brought the Medicare freeze in. It is this government that is going to ensure we have a sustainable Medicare into the future, unlike those opposite, who economically do not recognise that we have to make sensible decisions to ensure that sustainability. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Polley, a supplementary question.











Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (14:55): Will the minister confirm that the government will abandon its cuts to Medicare bulk-billing incentives for vital tests and scans as part of his 'rock-solid' commitment to the future of Medicare?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Local Government and Territories and Minister for Regional Communications) (14:55): The coalition is absolutely committed to increasing affordable bulk-billed services, and that includes tests and scans. We made a commitment at the last election to reduce regulatory cost pressures on pathology providers, and we struck a deal with the pathology sector that will improve compliance regarding the charging of fair market value rents, which the senator may not be aware of, for pathology collection centres by landlords. These changes will allow the pathology sector to continue to provide all Australians with affordable access to pathology services through maintaining the current bulk-billing rates.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Polley, a final supplementary question.



Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (14:56): Can the minister give a rock-solid commitment to Medicare if the government will not abandon its six-year Medicare freeze?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Local Government and Territories and Minister for Regional Communications) (14:56): We will absolutely give a rock-solid commitment to Medicare. The new minister, Minister Hunt, did that and we as a government do that—we give a rock-solid commitment to the future of Medicare. I do not know how many times I have to say that to those opposite before it sinks in. It is this government that has spent more on Medicare than ever before—$22.8 billion; it was only $19.2 billion under Labor, an increase in spending on Medicare. The bulk-billing rates under the coalition government are higher than those opposite delivered, higher than ever before, at 85.4 per cent as opposed to 82.2 per cent under Labor. Anybody listening would realise that under the coalition spending has increased and it is the coalition that is committed to Medicare. (Time expired)